The next governor of Montana will almost certainly have to decide whether to sign or veto a handful of gun bills that could dramatically reduce the safety of all Montanans. The Republicans in the Legislature will almost certainly bring back their proposals to arm teachers, allow concealed carry without restriction, reduce background checks and mental health screenings for guns, and permit people to bring guns into bars, banks, and casinos. They would like nothing more than to turn Montana into the embodiment of their macho fantasies about what the Old West was, no matter how wrong their history is or how dangerous their ideas are.
Barring a tectonic shift in the landscape of the Legislature, all of these bills and more will reach the governor’s desk in 2021, and that is what makes the silence of the Republican gubernatorial candidates on yesterday’s carnage in El Paso and Dayton so horrifying.
While many politicians across the country expressed their shock and outrage about the killings and some even had the courage to condemn the white nationalist forces that are inspiring so many of these killers, the three Republican candidates had nothing to say on social media, not even the empty words about “thoughts and prayers” that politicians owned by the gun lobby hope will assuage our guilt.
The silence of Republican candidates is understandable, given not only their craven fear of the NRA and its adherents but their role in passing policy that makes gun violence more likely. All three bray about their support for an unlimited Second Amendment, claims that ignore the fact guns have always been restricted in our country and it is only quite recently that the NRA has adopted its position that almost any guns should be permitted anywhere at any time.
Attorney General Tim Fox, whose only social media since the killings has been a campaign photo, was so incensed a few months about a fast-food chain being denied a permit in Texas that he immediately issued a press release and took to cable news to decry the outrage. Dead kids, murdered and maimed because they were out buying school clothes, though? Not important enough to merit notice.
Congressman Greg Gianforte, someone who probably should have to undergo mental health screening before he’s allowed to use a gun, also had no words of comfort for the killed, no offers to listen to solutions, and no prayers for our country. Of course, that’s hardly surprising, given that Gianforte voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women act just this year because it restricted the rights of intimate partners who had beaten, threatened, and stalked their partners to own guns.
Senator Al Olszewski, who has carried water for the Montana Shooting Sports Association’s worst bills in the Legislature, is so clueless and thoughtless that this is still the pinned tweet on his campaign Twitter account this morning:
— Dr. Al Olszewski (@alformontana) June 3, 2019
On the Democratic side, candidates spoke out forcefully. Representative Casey Schreiner condemned the violence and offered his condolences:
There are no adequate words to respond to yet another gun violence tragedy.
I’m heartsick thinking of El Paso and the pain their community is going through. We can’t keep putting our country through this.
— Casey Schreiner (@Casey_Schreiner) August 4, 2019
Former legislator Reilly Neil offered a number of substantive responses on Twitter, including recognition that the attacks were racially-motivated and the dangers of anti-immigrant rhetoric:
A 21yo man (who allegedly has ties to anti-immigrant rhetoric and white supremacy dark web sites) killed at least 20 people at a WalMart in El Paso. Reports are most victims are Hispanic. It’s a tragic day for for a country based on freedom, equality and inclusion of all people.
— Reilly for Montana (@Reilly2020) August 4, 2019
And Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney offered recognition of the tragedy and a call for Congressional action.
Every single Montanan and American can agree 29 people dying by mass shooting in 24 hours is heartbreaking and tragic. We also agree it’s unacceptable — and we are sick of nothing being done about it. Congress needs to wake up.
— Mike Cooney (@CooneyforMT) August 4, 2019
I’m not naive enough to believe that tweets or Facebook statements by any politician are going to change the permissive gun laws or bigoted rhetoric that has overtaken our country, but saying something is better than silence. We throw around the term “political leaders” to describe the people who aspire to govern our states and communities, but what kind of leader is silent in the face of the ongoing epidemic of gun violence that is wreaking such havoc on our communities and families?
And how can Montanans trust any candidate for governor to do the right thing on dangerous gun legislation when they lack the empathy, courage, or both to at least acknowledge the senseless horror of this weekend?